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Hollie Doyle: The road to Classic success

Hollie Doyle’s rise to Classic-winning jockey may seem meteoric but it has actually been far from it.

Throughout the 25-year-old’s still fledgling yet stellar career, she has exuded the old-fashioned virtues of hard work and humility, and it is only over the past three seasons her career has really reached new heights.

On Sunday she recorded yet another landmark, with her first Classic victory aboard Nashwa in the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) at Chantilly.

In 2019 Doyle rode 116 winners in Britain – 10 more than previously achieved by any female jockey.

In 2020 she reached a total of 151 and by October 2021 she had already passed that figure, eventually ending up with 172 for the year.

Yet it is not just the quantity but quality of her successes on the track which has thrust her front and centre in the racing limelight and rightly attracted wider acclaim.

In 2020 there was a first Group One victory on Glen Shiel in the Qipco British Champion Sprint Stakes at Ascot – and a perfect moment when her personality shone through every bit as much as her talent.

Close-up broadcast and print pictures showed the dawning, delighted realisation on her face, as the result of the photo finish was announced in her favour.

Her link with Alan King’s star stayer Trueshan has seen her add to her top-level tally too, with victory in the Goodwood Cup of 2021 as well as a famous Prix du Cadran success over Stradivarius.

Racing’s golden couple

Doyle is a gem for racing, and by priceless coincidence she is one half of the sport’s golden couple – because amid her brilliant achievements, her husband and fellow jockey Tom Marquand is operating at an even higher level.

That Champions Day at Ascot saw both of them ride doubles – and, of course, both were Group One winners to boot as they dominated and lit up one of Flat racing’s biggest events of the year.

For Marquand, it came less than a month after he had won his first Classic on Galileo Chrome in the St Leger at Doncaster.

For both, there is a charm to complement the regularity with which they win – and Marquand’s admission the following morning that they had burst into a fit of mutually incredulous giggles as they started the drive back home was perfection.

“After racing we got in the car and looked at each other and started laughing – it’s ridiculous really,” he said.

For both it is the result of huge talent and an enduring enthusiasm.

Doyle’s very first ride came at the age of 17. But the start of the journey dates back much further, to when she first sat on a horse at 18 months old.

Her father Mark rode over jumps and on the Flat as well as training point-to-pointers, and her mother Caroline took part in Arab racing on horses bred by her grandmother.

Doyle soon joined the Radnor and Hereford Pony Club – where four-time National Hunt champion jockey Richard Johnson previously learned and honed his young skills – and while excelling in those ranks, she met Marquand.

Via the British Racing School at Newmarket and then as an apprentice, she has embarked on a remarkable rise through the ranks.

In 2020, the record-breaking jockey with the diminutive frame made ever more giant strides – riding her first Royal Ascot winner, completing a near 900/1 five-timer at Windsor in August, and going global too with her first trip to the Breeders’ Cup and then adding a winner in Hong Kong’s International Jockeys’ Championship.

She had her first rides for Aidan O’Brien last year, and John Gosden had no hesitation in recommending to Nashwa’s owner Imad Al Sagar that she be his retained jockey.

Her third place behind Formula One ace Lewis Hamilton in the 2020 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award further underlines the groundswell of admiration and support for Doyle, who has the ability to cut through outside the racing bubble, too.

Throughout, it is a racing certainty that her unaffected, winning smile has remained constant and nobody begrudges her any of the success she gains – a sure sign that what you see with Hollie Doyle is exactly what you get.

Doyle’s delight in her own words

“I’ve got a lot of people to thank. Without Imad Al Sagar (owner) I don’t know if I would ever have been in the position to get an opportunity like this.

“These types of horses are hard to come upon and I’m only 25, so it’s relatively early on in my career and I feel pretty lucky.

She’s done it! @HollieDoyle1 and Nashwa are tough winners of the Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines! 🇫🇷

— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) June 19, 2022

“If you’d said to me three years ago that I would be riding in a Classic for Mr Gosden I’d have laughed. To be in this position is incredible and when you ride at this level, the trainer has done all they can and the owner has put you in position, it’s down to me on the day.

“I just expect a lot from myself and I don’t want to let people down. You have to prepare yourself to be at your best when given the opportunity and that’s what I try and do.”

Hollie Doyle – what the racing world has said

John Gosden: “The owner-breeder Imad Al Sagar said to me two or three years ago that he had two or three jockeys he was looking at and wanted to retain a jockey. He showed me the list and I said ‘Hollie Doyle’ and I know other people would back me on that.

“She’s hugely talented and horses run for her. She’s incredibly meticulous and hard-working and she analyses things properly.

“The race didn’t work out how we thought but we did have the Plan B to stay forward if that occurred and she’s shown herself as a class rider and the filly is a class filly who was beautifully ridden.

“I am proud and Thady is extremely proud because it’s the youth team teaming up again. It’s quite obvious that I’ll be surplus to requirements quite soon with the youthful Thady and Hollie!”

Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to Al Sagar: “The great thing is that we’ve moved away from calling her a good female jockey, now we’re just calling her a very good jockey. I think she’s really established herself in the top rank now.

“Imad is a forward thinker. He takes a lot of care and trouble over his whole racing and breeding business, a lot of thought went into appointing Hollie and they have certainly repaid each other.

“There’s nothing better (than winning a Classic), it’s the height of what everyone is trying to achieve.”

Richard Hannon senior: “She was apprentice to us here for some time, she’s a very good jockey. It’s great, her first Classic, she’s a good rider, very good.

“She was always a hard-worker, she’s a really nice girl and everything she’s achieved, she’s achieved through hard work.

“We had her husband here too, Marquand, we’ve had them all, they’ve done very well and I’m glad they have. I can’t tell you how much I just enjoy watching them.”

Gerald Mosse, second in the Prix de Diane aboard La Parisienne: “It is probably hard to even realise with everything that is happening, maybe later she will understand how significant it is for her to be the first one. It is a privilege.

“I first won back in 1988, I was very happy for her, as a young jockey, to see her win the race. It was a good feeling to congratulate her and I’m sure if I had won, she would congratulate me!”

What happens next?

Nashwa is likely to remain at a 10-furlong trip for her next outing, with domestic contests like Goodwood’s Nassau Stakes under consideration alongside a return to France for the Prix de l’Opera and a potential voyage to the Breeders’ Cup at the latter end of the campaign.

“She’s had two pretty tough races within just 16 days so we have got to sit back and look and how she comes out of it,” Grimthorpe said.

“I think we can say she will be at Group One level, most likely 10 furlongs, which leads to the fairly obvious races like the Nassau, the Prix de l’Opera, perhaps the Breeders’ Cup.

“What happens along the way or how we get there, I don’t know, John will discuss with Imad and we will see where we want to go.”

In the Flat jockeys’ championship odds, Doyle is the joint-second favourite at 6/1 behind William Buick.

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